It seems that, everywhere I look, there’s another teenage dancing sensation making a splash in the community. They wow YouTube audiences worldwide… while eliciting a slightly different response in other dancers over a certain age.
This response is full support, of course, but support laced with a tinge of skepticism. With the progression of generations, there arises a fear that our community’s true meaning might eventually be forgotten or diluted by those who weren’t there to witness, or failure to realize the importance of its roots.
We are reaching a point in our development where our newest members weren’t even born when our oldest members were laying down the first bricks of our foundation. Case study? One of the longest-standing teams in the southern California dance scene, PAC Modern.
PAC Modern, as it celebrates its 21st year at the infamous CSULB Pyramid, is now… old enough to drink. PAC is our peer, a young adult, an entity that had as much presence at year 1 as it does now. I sat down with some of the team’s founders and first members to find out about its birth and childhood, as well as some recent team leaders to discuss PAC’s adaptation to the changing world of dance.
The team started, as all great things do, as an idea. Well,
An idea, and a whole lot of grit
The Pilipino American Coalition (PAC) at CSULB has been, and is, deeply rooted traditional Pilipino culture. So when young Leslie Patascil suggested, in 1994, a modern suite performance at Pilipino Culture Night (the club’s annual cultural performance), the board initially rejected it. PCN was reserved for the most culturally authentic of Pilipino dances. “But,” they joked to Leslie, “If you want it that badly, become PCN Coordinator and you can do it.”
Leslie, armed with a background performing and competing in high school, but more importantly, a fiercely determined attitude, took them up on the joke and actually became the PCN Coord. And she actually, (along with her Co-Coord and friend, Ferdinand, made that dream of a modern suite become a reality.
A slightly rebellious, hands-on, grassroots campaign
The following year, in 1995, college freshman “Jon Jon” Asperin wandered into PAC’s general meeting. The club held this first meeting with the hopes of recruiting new members, and as an opportunity to introduce PCN. Leslie had prepared a modern set “preview,” met with dropping jaws of the rest of the PAC Board. They had no idea she would be following through with their half-joking proposal.
Leslie’s preview piqued the interest of Jon Jon and his friend Brian Blancaflor, who both had similar dance backgrounds to Leslie. They had been on the Channel Island All Male and Co-Ed Dance team in high school, their first exposure to organized dance competitions as well as the B-Boy cyphers that they were accustomed to growing up in. It is significant to note that around this time, the high school dance scene was growing rapidly. As Jon Jon and Brian had graduated with an unfulfilled appetite for dance, they stumbled upon, at a general meeting of a college club, what would later be PAC Modern.
At this unassuming meeting where Leslie dared to go off-script, Jon Jon and Brian were, disappointingly, the only two to sign up for the “hip-hop modern suite at PCN” roster. In hopes of garnering more support or interest, the two and Leslie decided to put together a small set for the next week’s meeting.
But their 4 8-counts still amounted to 0 additional signups.
“We almost lost faith. We didn’t quite get the response we were expecting. But Leslie had already pulled the trigger, our mission was in motion. We had to keep trying.”
— Jon Jon
They started recruiting their friends, most with no dance experience at all. At the end of a trying few weeks, they has assembled a crew of 8 girls and 7 guys.
These 15 went on to perform at that year’s PCN’s pre-show, not being able to secure a place in the actual show as an actual suite. But it didn’t matter. They just had fun, free of competitive edge or pressure to impress. They just wanted to express themselves and have people see Hip Hop in a different light. If anything, they stuck to simple, playful moves
“that our parents would recognize. This was, after all, their first exposure to what their kids were doing in their spare time, so we integrated the cha cha, and other recognizable grooves.”
— Jon Jon
No crazy choreo, no creative transitions. Just a good time doing what they love, with the people they love.
“The question, or motto, “Are you hungry” has proliferated throughout the years on PAC. It started because we were, for a long time, struggling to be accepted. There was no fan base to ride. No established community. No network between other dancers.”
— Jon Jon
This was a time before iPhones and YouTube, a time that seems ancient, but is barely a generation ago. Jon Jon and his peers had no way to get to know other dancers, besides the good old fashioned in-person handshake. They didn’t have the marketing mediums we now use, relying on word of mouth. The lack of support, the lack of acceptance from peers in their own club they represented, the lack of connection, kept PAC in a state of underdog- isolation.
The only way to survive, was to be self-sufficient. The only way to keep growing, was to be resilient. The only way they lasted 21 years, was by staying hungry.
Not being, but staying hungry. Which is why, to this day, you can hear the team chanting the same words Leslie, Jon Jon, and Brian had, 2 decades ago.
The “Nice to meet you”s
In 1996, there was an event called “Intercollegiate PCN,” which was exactly what it sounds like it’d be. Pilipino clubs from different campuses came together to put on one huge PCN.
In the show, there were only 2 modern hip hop suites out of the several participating schools: PAC Modern and Kaba Modern.
“This was beginning of the rivalry that shaped both of us.”
— Jon Jon
There wasn’t necessarily animosity or bad blood. The fact that they were the only two who danced that particular style and performed in parallel sparked an inevitable competition not only among the two schools, but it also made note to the the other schools that Kaba was no longer the only Pilipino club that had a modern dance team.
“Kaba was holding it down in the community and influenced so many other dance teams, especially ours.We aspired to reach that level as did many other teams.Their level of talent and exceptional performance quality naturally pushed us to be better.”
— Jon Jon
PAC started to take their team more seriously. They shaped up their auditions process, recruited dancers with different experience, and later that year, entered their first competition.
No, not VIBE. (Yet.) This was 1996, remember? During this time, dance competitions were nearly non-existent in Southern California and venues such as car-shows were the few venues that showcased dance teams.For the first time, PAC competed at the Import Showoff car show, against 10 other teams.
Granted, the majority of those were “booty-shaking” teams, but the line up did include some impressive acts such as LOST, Crayola Kids, EPIC, and some house and bboy freestyle crews.
This was also when PAC first met Culture Entertainment, later to be known as Team Millennia. Danny Batimana was directing
“the only team that explorred and integrated contemporary styles into their routine. That was the beauty of these import showoffs. Everyone brought something so different, and we got to meet and experience each other for the first time. Everything was so fresh and new.”
— Jon Jon
But even within the plethora of different teams, Kaba and PAC were always keeping an eye out for each other. At this first show that PAC competed in, the two teams ended up in a tie.
“There was a discrepancy in point calculation that Leslie and I (along with Arnel Calvario, founder of Kaba Modern and Cheryl Cambay) noticed on stage right before the awards ceremony.Leslie and I stood on stage together, smiling and laughing as they sorted out the scores.We were just happy to be on that stage for the first time and proud of our Pac Modern family.Ultimately, it resulted in a tie as it was announced.” Jon Jon claims.
In the meantime…
Other teams were starting to pop up. Danny’s team developed into what we now know as Team Millennia. And for the next few years, TM and PAC kept losing to the at the time, “unbeatable” Kaba Modern, which bred their friendly rivalry. Or, more accurately, gave PAC Modern a more definitive drive to be better
As time passed and Jon Jon and Leslie were about to graduate around ’98-99, the team recognized the need to adapt.
“We were known for using underground, non-mainstream, and independent hip-hop music. We actually mixed our songs, scratched and juggled over the beats and stayed away from all the cut-and-paste mixes that other teams were doing at the time.The founding members of the team were all hip-hop heads, so we gravitated toward the classics instead of what you heard on the radio. At the time, we didn’t specifically cater for a hype crowd that was screaming and cheering, instead we aimed for the soul claps and head nods.”
— Jon Jon
But that music selection, or the choreography that was less “stage-friendly,” was what was keeping the team behind the ones that delivered more crowd-appealing performances.
“We wanted to stay true to ourselves, but realized it was time to compromise and consider changing our landscape.”
— Jon Jon
The team stayed loyal their love of hip-hop culture. But they learned to utilize a collective of dancers with different skills (bboys, poppers, stunts, even elements of cheerleading) that would add dynamics to their sets, which became more show-y and impressive. The team stayed grounded in their approach to mixing music, kept choreography clean, fierce and aggressive, took risks that others wouldn’t attempt and developed the “PAC Modern” formula that is not only reminiscent in PAC today but in many groups as well.
“Are you still hungry?”
In 1999 Import Showoff hosted an event called “EXC,” an event that past and current champions and top contenders of the Import scene were invited to compete in the “Best of the Best” showcase.For the dance scene, the EXC invited only PAC Modern and Kaba Modern to compete. It’s as if they wanted to instigate the budding competition between the two teams, or simply knew how much crowd appeal hip hop crews were garnering.
It was, fatefully, the last year for a lot of the OG members, and Jon Jon and Leslie’s last show with the team. And PAC, for the first time ever, beat Kaba Modern.
After years of buildup, losing countless competitions against them, in a crowd of 3,000 people (but only 12 fans of PAC Modern,) the team finally felt the monumental gratification of a long-term goal.
“It’s important for us to always be on the same wavelength. To focus ourselves before each performance, we have a ritual called the prayer circle. At this particular show, 2 of our dancers had injured their legs. They couldn’t stand, so they were kneeling on one knee. So the rest of the team took a knee in the circle, and we carried on with the prayer. Which is why you’ll see us taking a knee during our circle, even now.”
— Jon Jon
After PAC Modern secured their first victory against Kaba, while in a prayer circle before they took to the stage for their annual PCN, Jon Jon asked the team “Are you still hungry?!” — and the phrase solidified itself, then and there, as a reminder to keep growing, as a family, and not as competitors to any other team.
“Basically…we started as an unwelcome pre-show act fighting to express ourselves and struggled to be accepted by our peers. We worked to gain support and defend our identity. That’s why we emphasize the importance of remembering the cloth we were cut from. Our deep family roots. That’s why all of our dancers, always, always seem to come back home.They may not be there physically, or maybe no longer dancing, or they simply have other life responsibilities…the wonderful thing is that PAC Modern is still in their heart. That’s the whole beauty of our PAC Modern family.“
— Jon Jon
The team still pays tribute to its roots by performing at PCN every year. “Our moms and dads, brothers and sisters who watched us there. That’s where we’re from and where it all started, and that’s who we give back to.It’s a reminder that we are not only JUST a dance team competing.We are an active part of the Pilipino American Coalition at CSULB.PCN is our homecoming.”
— Jon Jon
As you can expect, PAC’s alumni network remains strong, and they celebrate their family every year at the annual alumni mixer. Every single past member has written a page in the team’s history, and the team continually gives thanks and respect for that contribution.
“Now, we’ve turned over to a new generation. Everything is accessible and easy. We feel it’s integral to not lose sight of our original values. It’s about validation, growth, and spreading knowledge, not competition.”
— Stacey Mendoza
The new millennium
Stacey Mendoza joined PAC Modern in 1999, in the overlap between PAC’s first and next generation. Stacey had been a dancer since birth, trained in all styles, and with a high school competition background. So when she entered CSULB, her friends encouraged her to audition for PAC Modern. She decided to go check it out.
She fell in love at the team at the first general meeting.
“[The team] had been what I had been searching or, a connection to hip hop music and culture.”
She became one of 6 newbies that year.
In 2001, Stacey became the head coordinator of the team. “I remember thinking to myself… the world needs to know who we are.” There was still no real community at the time, and definitely no technological medium or organized events that could foster one. But myspace was evolving, which was a lot of people’s first exposure to social media. People were also starting to make websites, allowing for a very elementary form of digital marketing, especially for events.
This bred the evolution of competition culture. At the time, VIBE was held in the DTLA Japanese Arts Theatre. That was one of the only big competitions that the team was participating in.
But the team also decided to enter Battlefest in the Bay Area, which was a total cultural eye-opener. The Bay Area had their own dance scene, removed from, but eerily similar to what was rising in the SoCal scene.
Their performance was, apparently, an eye-opener for the crowd, too.
“There was no audience response. It was dead quiet. We thought we did horribly… but we ended up winning!”
Not only did they gain a first place trophy, Stacey and the team gained an intrigue of the difference dance communities outside of their own. They realized the significance of networking and getting to know different dancers and teams. They also started to not care about the PAC/Kaba rivalry. There was a definite paradigm shift: “it just started to seem kind of silly.” — Stacey
Pushing the envelope
Other teams started to make their debuts into the community, such as Formality SD and CADC. All the teams competed in the same division, and got to be more exposed to each other.
“PAC still stuck to our roots and what we believed in.” — Stacey. Jon Jon was still mixing music for the sets, and advising formulas with concepts that the team still uses. PAC was the first group to introduce “real costumes” to the stage, instead of the black pants or Adidas track suits. “We looked like a real dance crew!”
In 2002, Lizzy Richardson came on board. For the next few years, she was the match that sparked ideas and blazed trails for the team.
This generation was one of many progressive, artistic changes. At PCN 2003, the team performed a themed set, for the first time. The “Movie Set” would prove to be significant, as many other sets started to infuse themes and storytelling within their dances. “It was a 7 minute set, with full on costume changes, props, stage set up, everything.”
After that year, Stacey moved on to Culture Shock, passing down her position to Lizzy. With a background in cheer and dance, Lizzy had innovative visions that she was not afraid to bring to life. In 2005, PAC’s famous “Dream Within A Dream” set blew audiences away.
It was a refreshing branch away from solely hip hop sets, infusing lyrical and contemporary styles, even acrobatics. The element of theatrics and fearless exploration of movement not only set PAC apart from the other teams, it made them to realize their potential and push past it.
Lizzy was the first coordinator, ever, to put together 4-5 sets within 1 year. The team had usually done 2, at most. But she was determined to bring out the best, and the most out of the team.
A fan turned family
In 2003, Philip Cariaso, moved down to Long Beach from the Bay Area and joined PAC Modern.
He actually discovered the team in 1999 when he attended the Friendship Games at CSU Fullerton, and soon became an avid fan of all things PAC Modern. When he transferred to CSULB, Philip became engulfed by the dance community. Being foreign to the militant and disciplined style of competitive collegiate teams, he ate up all the training PAC offered.
Philip became a coord the following year, and worked with Lizzy, Mark Raquedan, and Limbert Pascual to create the “Dream Within A Dream” set.
“We actually started planning and working on it a year in advance. We didn’t tell anyone what were were doing, until its debut at Fusion 2005. The coords were nervous about making something so avant-garde, but ended up blowing everyone away with 2nd place wins at Fusion and Bustagroove 2005.”
*It was also around this time that PAC and Kaba hosted their first inter-team mixer, in January of 2005. It was held at Philip’s apartment, just a few blocks away from the Long Beach campus. So gave birth to “PacKaba,” a friendship between the two teams, and a spirit of support and respect that our community has grown to embody. The two teams even started to attend each others’ auditions to show their support, another tradition that continues to this day.
Ready, set.. sets!
The next few years were of insatiable hunger and constant feeding. Lizzy and Philip pushed the team artistically, mentally, and physically. In the 2005-2006 season, they did a one-song set to “17 Years” by Rat Attack, winning the 1st place at both Battlefest and Fusion.
Ultimate Brawl was just 2 weeks away, but Lizzy didn’t want to play it safe by repeating a set they had already performed. So they did a new set. And a few weeks later, for Bustagroove (Body Rock), they created an entirely new, dark, open-to-interpretation “Drug” set, which won them 3rd place. Beyond any placings, the team simply wanted to stay hungry by delivering something new every chance they got.
Campers to coords
In 2005, the coordinators were looking for ways to offer their services to the youth of the community. So began PAC Camp, summer dance workshops for younger dancers. The PAC Campers would take a series of classes and perform at PAC’s annual Christmas Fest in one big medley.
“I, like many others, fell in love with the team through PAC Camp. That’s why we all understand the importance of teaching the youth.”
— Morgan Hale
This year, children as young as 4 years old participated in the camp, being nurtured and encouraged by PAC Modern members and outside choreographers.
Rewinding again, Gino Claudio was a high school teenager in 2009, when he became a PAC Camper, taking every single workshop he could. When he graduated high school, he immediately auditioned and made it onto his dream team.
3 years later, he became a team coord. During his leadership, he emphasized the importance of tradition, because that is what he was inspired by, what had brought him there. The team was still utilizing the same 3 DJs to mix their music (Jon Jon, Arley Collado, and Jeff Labastida), and even brought back the panels they had used in the famous “Dream Within A Dream” set as props. Gino prioritized the community, sustaining PAC Camp, and performing at PAC’s campus-related performances.
Simiarly, Skye Victoriano was a PAC Camper as well, joining the team in 2010, and became a coord in 2013. “There was a big turnover in team members that year, which is what instilled such a strong sense of “family” in the current members.” Skye, Gino, Morgan, and Lauren Belyea (another coord) used this as an opportunity to rebuild the team in any and every way.
The team put together 5 sets that year. “We wanted to do as much as we could competitively.”
PAC Modern is known for having hellish hell weeks. But only in the hours. 9 pm to 6 am for 5 days straight, before a competition, sounds like some physically demanding, nocturnal full-time job that doesn’t pay, but PAC’s purpose and people make that time anything but hellish. In fact, it’s another tradition they practice with pride.
“We don’t have studios, mirrors, or safe floors. We use each other to clean. We have to trust in ourselves and our teammates.”
Places have immense power to hold emotional significance, and the Pyramid is definitely “home” to all of PAC Modern. They were having problems this past year with the cops, particularly one who would stop their practice every night at 10 pm. They were forced to relocate or hide, on top of trying to get a performance ready.
But even with all the inconvenience and struggle, they wouldn’t give up that spot for anything. “It’s the same place our founders danced in 1995, and it’s where the team dances now. Alumni come back here to visit us. We walk by and remember so much about our experiences on the team. That connection is everything.” — Skye
“Once on modern, always on modern”
Last year, PAC celebrated its 20 year mark with a Gala. All the “OG”s came to perform, the majority of whom do not dance anymore. But they grooved it out, resurrecting that old 90’s flavor that was the breeding ground of PAC Modern.
Currently, as we are nearing the end of 2015, the team is experiencing a lot of transitions.
“A lot of the oldies became alumni. The whole community, actually, is at the moment going through this turnover. It’s a whole new generation.”
Yes, indeed, we are witnessing a lot of changes. and PAC Modern is striving to grow with the community while staying true to their roots. All of the alumni agree that, if the team is anything, it’s tenacious. All members are so committed to the team. “Once they’re in, they’re in.” — and that spirit is what is going to carry the team into the future.
“No matter how the style of the time changes, we always keep up. We have a deeply rooted understanding of where we come from, which is advantageous when figuring out where we’re going.”
Reinventing yourself is, without a doubt, a challenging and bumpy process. But PAC’s allegiance to their identity and adaptability in this progressive scene will ensure that they remain timeless.
From Leslie’s refusal to accept “no” as an answer, a long-standing rivalry turned friendship with another team, to producing artistically daring sets, and a Pyramid PACked with memories.. PAC Modern’s story is as unexpected and interesting as the work they continue to produce.
Thank you to my friends Jon Jon, Philip, Stacey, Gino, Lauren, Kyle, Skye, and Morgan for taking the time to share! Stay tuned for the next installment of our community’s story… #STEEZYOrigins
Did you learn anything new from this article? And why do you think knowing about our past is important? Comment below and share with us!